Judge has school districts cool heels for a year on special-ed


The Mirror

The lawsuit filed by Federal Way Public Schools and several other school districts against Washington has been postponed for more than a year by a Thurston County Superior Court judge.

In a decision filed this month, Judge William McPhee ruled the trial would begin Oct. 30, 2006 rather than last week.

McPhee explained he would exercise “judicial restraint” while a study funded by the Legislature researches all aspects of education in the state, said Christopher Hirst, a lawyer representing the school districts.

The state’s attorneys asked McPhee for the postponement and noted Governor Christine Gregoire was taking an active role in the study, Hirst said.

Federal Way and 10 other districts formed the School Districts’ Alliance for Adequate Funding more than a year ago and sued the state for full funding of special education.

The districts argue Washington’s constitution and previous court rulings require the state to fully fund basic education. Special education has been determined by a previous court case as part of basic education.

The districts involved in the case state they tap into local levy dollars to cover costs associated with special education the state doesn’t fund. Federal Way school officials have said the case is a prelude, if the districts win, to future court cases requiring the state to fund other aspects of basic education.

McPhee told both sides his postponement was not limitless, and he added two dates in the case’s calendar for both sides to give updates on the study.

Hirst said the districts asked for those dates and the date of the trial and viewed McPhee’s amended case schedule order as a positive sign the judge is watching the results of the study.

At least one organization has made it known it opposes the districts’ case.

Washington State Special Education Coalition, a statewide coalition of parents, educators and organizations, is opposed to the lawsuit. The group claims the districts involved haven’t applied for extra funding available from the state. The group also fears special-education students are being unfairly put into the spotlight, making it harder to integrate them into standard classrooms.

Staff writer Mike Halliday: 925-5565,

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